“While we may not agree with every aspect of the Commission’s recommendations, we believe that its work represents an important foundation to achieve meaningful progress on our debt,” the senators wrote. “By approaching these negotiations comprehensively, with a strong signal of support from you, we believe that we can achieve consensus on these important fiscal issues.”
The letter was drafted by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), who said in a conference call Friday with reporters that it took them only a couple of days to convince a super-majority of their colleagues to sign the letter — 32 Republicans and 32 Democrats.
Neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) nor Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is among the signatories. But the list is fairly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, they said, and includes members of both parties’ leadership, including Republican conference chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.
“There’s no question entitlement reforms and tackling tax reform is going to be tough,” Johanns said. “We acknowledge it’s one thing to get 60 senators on a letter; it will be even tougher to get 60 senators on a [deficit-reduction] package.
“But we won’t have any chance unless the president joins us in this effort,” he said. “We feel very very strongly that a crisis looms and that we all have to engage.”
The White House issued a statement Friday agreeing with the letter’s goals, but without promising any specific action. Vice President Biden is already involved in congressional talks over short-term funding levels.
“The president agrees that any serious discussion of how to tackle our long-term fiscal situation needs to include entitlements and tax reform, which is why he committed to take on both in his State of the Union Address,” said White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage, noting that Obama included several such provisions in his most recent budget blueprint, including a five-year freeze on domestic spending and a plan to limit tax deductions for high earners.
“We believe it’s a positive development anytime Democrats and Republicans come together to work on one of our nation’s toughest challenges, and we will continue to work with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to rein in our deficit, grow our economy, and win the future.”